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Bringing Life to a 100 Year Old Portcullis | Demonstrating Engineering Expertise at Birmingham Law Courts

Bringing Life to a 100 Year Old Portcullis | Demonstrating Engineering Expertise at Birmingham Law Courts

​Award winning lifting equipment manufacturer, Penny Hydraulics Ltd have completed some challenging and unusual projects in their 37 years; from a goods lift for a Guinness brewery in Nigeria, to a winching system to lift a 1.5 tonne “flying table” in a utopian London workspace. October 2016 however, saw completion of possibly the most unusual and challenging project yet, the full refurbishment of a 100 year old inverted portcullis mechanism at Birmingham Magistrates Courts.

During the industrial revolution, Birmingham was often described as 'a city of terracotta'. Terracotta enabled the creation of elaborate, decorative façades and was a cheaper option to carved stone which was hard to come by at that time. Pride in public service provision was demonstrated by the grandeur of the great public buildings such as the Courts in the late 1800s. Arguably the most impressive of all these buildings is the Grade I-listed Victoria Law Courts on Corporation Street. The buildings heavily decorated frontage makes it one of the city's most recognisable buildings. The interior is equally as impressive with stained glass windows which depict and celebrate the city's industries and notable figures from the past, a nod to Birmingham's rich heritage.

The building was completed in 1891 and is the work of architects Aston Webb and Ingress Bell, who won a design competition against 126 architects from across the country for this project. The court is the largest single court complex in Europe and the busiest court in the UK, housing 22 courts in total with 525 trials each month.

Today's digital court couldn’t be more different from that of 1891 and replaces traditional hard copy files with Wi Fi and tablet devices. Any modifications to the building are being carried out in close consultation with English Heritage, ensuring the integrity of the building is not lost, whilst securing the future of the building as a working court for many years to come.

Traditionally, access to the Court has been through an inverted portcullis, one of only two portcullises of its type in the country, which can be lowered through the ground. After the portcullis raising and lowering mechanism was condemned by insurance inspectors it was no longer possible to use. The Ministry of Justice called on Penny Hydraulics lighting winch systems division, to replace worn and damaged components and return the system to full working order.

Some parts of the mechanism were estimated to be approximately 100 years old which made replacing parts extremely challenging. Having design and manufacturing capabilities in house at their Chesterfield premises, Penny Hydraulics were able to custom CNC machine obsolete components within the required timeframe. The company also commissioned a new inverter based drive system to reduce the speed of the Portcullis and improve operator safety.

The portcullis was tested and certificated to Lifting Operation & Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER) regulations. Penny Hydraulics are fully accredited to ISO9001, are UVDB (Utilities Vendor Database) registered and Safe Contractor Approved. In addition, the site engineers that carried out the refurbishment work are registered under the Construction Skills Certification Scheme ensuring good working practices and relationships were established and maintained well beyond the lifespan of the project.

With innovation & problem solving firmly embedded within the corporate culture, Penny Hydraulics don’t shy away from challenging new projects. The company founder, John Penny Senior was a great all-round engineer who saw no boundaries to what was achievable. John’s son, now Managing Director Robin expands on this stating, “Our father’s lack of formal training meant that he was not constrained by the rulebook but he relied heavily on experience. He was an eccentric character building boats, cars and aeroplanes in his spare time.” John Penny Seniors experience and enthusiasm was passed down to both Robin and his brothers who backed this up with formal training. Robin continues, “This practical ability and can do attitude with a no boundaries approach still runs through the company today and I believe sets us apart from many other businesses who are simply able to offer off-the-shelf products.”

Needless to say, the Portcullis has now been fully repaired and works beautifully. The system can be used once again to secure the main entrance of the Law Courts at night and an important part of Birmingham’s heritage has been restored.

Related Video

Award winning lifting equipment manufacturer, Penny Hydraulics Ltd have completed some challenging and unusual projects in their 37 years; from a goods lift for a Guinness brewery in Nigeria, to a winching system to lift a 1.5 tonne “flying table” in a utopian London workspace. October 2016 however, saw completion of possibly the most unusual and challenging project yet, the full refurbishment of a 100 year old inverted portcullis mechanism at Birmingham Magistrates Courts.

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